Federal agents raided Jeffrey Epstein's mansion in the U.S. Virgin Islands Monday searching for evidence related to the wealthy financier's past sex-trafficking crimes, an FBI spokesman told NBC 4.
The search of Epstein's private island home off the coast of St. Thomas was led by the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York, according to two senior law enforcement officials briefed on the investigation.
A spokesperson for the the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.
Kelly Quinn, the owner of Salty Dog Day Sails, was running a sailing charter in the area at the time of the raid and captured cellphone video of FBI agents swarming the island.
“We were just trying to look at pretty fish and swim with turtles and here we are in the middle of an FBI raid," said Quinn. "This has been something on our radar for years. We’re all really curious why it’s happening now."
The raid came two days after Epstein was found unresponsive in a Manhattan jail cell. Federal authorities have intensified inquiries into the circumstances around his death.
An administration official told News 4 that correction officers went a "number of hours" before checking on Epstein the night of his apparent suicide at the Metropolitan Correctional Center — a violation of the prison's guidelines, multiple officials aware of the protocol said Monday.
Multiple officials have confirmed a 30-minute mandate for checking on inmates at Manhattan's MCC, where Epstein was jailed as he awaited federal trial on a litany of sex abuse and trafficking charges. Two officials told NBC 4 the wing of the prison where Epstein was housed was properly staffed the night of his death, raising questions about whether and what policies were violated.
The precise time gap between checks is still not clear, according to the official. The official says Epstein's cellmate was released Friday and not replaced, which violates federal protocol for that section of MCC. As to why there was no replacement in accordance with policy, the official said, "We don't know yet."
Separately, a person familiar with the case says Epstein's lawyers had visited him at the MCC Friday until about 6:30 pm and said he was mentally and emotionally stable. This person says Epstein's lawyers were urging prison officials to move him to the general population, where he would have had more freedom. Epstein's lawyers have not returned requests for comment on that matter.
The apparent suicide of such a high-profile inmate -- who was found in a fetal position on his cell floor with neck injuries after an apparent suicide attempt just weeks earlier -- is the latest blight on the federal jail, which houses some of the nation's highest-security inmates (including Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and Paul Manafort) despite chronic understaffing. A union official familiar with the situation tells News 4 MCC is currently down 38 correction officers and that officers are doing mandatory and voluntary overtime to try to cover shifts.
In some cases, the officers are pulling double or even triple shifts. "Augmentation" has been implemented, meaning regular staff and case managers are being pulled in to at times do some correction officer work, though there are sometimes not enough people to even man surveillance cameras, the union official said.
"I have not seen anything like this. It is ludicrous," the union official said. "They are running these prisons with practically no staffing."
A person familiar with operations of the MCC says the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has been offering a 10 percent recruitment incentive to personnel willing to transfer to the Manhattan facility. The 10 percent incentive is based on the employee's current pay grade; it's not being offered to potential employees at the jail's sister prison in Brooklyn, the Metropolitan Detention Center.
A defense attorney for Epstein, Marc Fernich, blasted jail officials over the weekend, saying they "recklessly put Mr. Epstein in harm's way" and failed to protect him. While a final autopsy determination is pending, multiple people briefed on the investigation say there remains no sign of foul play.
Epstein, 66, had pleaded not guilty to federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. He had been alone in his cell when he was found unresponsive Saturday, even though he only recently had returned to the Special Housing Unit from suicide watch. The jail had placed him on 24-hour monitoring — with daily psychiatric evaluations — after he was found injured on the floor of his cell weeks earlier with neck bruises.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr touched on the matter at the beginning of a police convention in New Orleans Monday, saying the Epstein case was "very important" to the Department of Justice and to him personally.
"I was appalled and frankly angry to learn of the MCC's failure to adequately secure this prisoner. We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that demand a thorough investigation," Barr said. "FBI and the office of the DOJ IG will get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability."
"But let me assure you that this case will continue against anyone who was complicit with Epstein," Barr said. "Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. Victims deserve justice and they will get it."
Epstein's death is the latest black eye for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the jail's parent agency that already was under fire for the October death of Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, who was beaten to death at a federal prison in West Virginia shortly after his arrival.
Taken together, the deaths underscore "serious issues surrounding a lack of leadership" within the BOP, said Cameron Lindsay, a former warden who ran three federal lockups, including the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.
The Bureau of Prisons did not respond to repeated requests for details about Epstein's death.